154. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Rountree) to Acting Secretary of State Dillon0


  • NSC Consideration of United States Policy Toward Iraq

Discussion of this subject at the December 23 meeting1 will be directed toward the question of whether the situation in Iraq is moving beyond that envisaged in paragraph 39 of our current policy paper (NSC 5820/1).2 The information currently available to us indicates that the growth of Communist influence in the Qassim government has been of such rapidity and extensiveness as to cause serious alarm both to non-Communist nationalists in Iraq and to the United Arab Republic. Apart from the formal question of whether or not the language of paragraph 39 as it now stands is sufficiently comprehensive and flexible or should be amended to reflect more explicitly the developing situation in Iraq, there are also substantive questions of the first magnitude to be explored in the immediate future. The basic question is whether the situation in Iraq, both in itself and in its possible implications for the Near East as a whole, is such as to make it advisable to seek an area of mutual accommodation with Nasser regarding Iraq. Related questions are (1) whether there are elements in Iraq which are neither pro-Communist nor pro-United Arab Republic with which the United States could work; (2) whether it is still possible that Qassim may turn on the Communists, and [2-1/2 lines of source text not declassified].

The Prospect in Iraq

It is the Department’s view, on the basis of the admittedly incomplete information now at our disposal, that the Communists in Iraq with Soviet advice and assistance have reached a serious position of strength. Qassim, however, has shown no inclination to move against the Communists. His open reliance upon Communist support strongly suggests either (1) that he is the dupe or willing tool of the Communists or (2) that he is fearful that he will be forced to share or ultimately relinquish power if he calls upon the army and/or other nationalist [Page 369] elements for help in suppressing the Communists. Qassim appears also to be convinced that the United States is working against him with the Kurds, primarily through Iran. Furthermore, his knowledge that the United Arab Republic has been intriguing against him has probably so embittered him toward the United Arab Republic that he may be unwilling to move against the Communists as long as they continue to maintain their anti-UAR line. In short, even assuming he is not a Communist or dupe of the Communists, we see little prospect of Qassim’s moving effectively to stem the growth of Communist strength.

Given Qassim’s apparent willingness to lend his prestige as a nationalist hero to the Communist game in Iraq, any opposition elements which might be tempted to seek Western support or assistance would immediately be discredited as “imperialist agents.” Under the circumstances and despite the apparent defeat of Abd-al-Salaam Arif and the Ba’thist proponents of immediate union with the United Arab Republic, Nasser is the only acceptable source of outside support left to Iraqi Nationalist elements who may wish to move against the present regime. Even his capabilities in Iraq appear circumscribed, however, and the recent discovery by Qassim of a plot in which the United Arab Republic obviously has a hand will clearly make any future attempts at a counter-coup more difficult. If Nasser were to exert a decisive influence on events in Iraq, it would point up the divergence of purpose between Communism and Arab nationalism.

Any intervention by Turkey, Iran, or even Jordan would be resented and opposed by a majority of the Iraqi people and would be viewed as Western-instigated aggression. Even if it did not provoke Soviet counter-action, such a move could bring no more than a short-lived check to the course of events in Iraq and would probably have the long-range effect of strengthening Communism in the Arab world and permanently alienating Arab nationalist sentiment from the West. Any move to intervene forcibly in Iraq would, moreover, be bound to provoke sharp condemnation by the UN.

Implications of a pro-Nasser Coup in Iraq

The implications of a successful coup against Qassim’s government in Iraq would, of course, depend to a considerable extent on the degree of influence which Nasser was able to exert on the successor regime. We consider it inevitable that any such regime will be more pro-UAR than the present one. On the other hand, there is little reason to believe that the Iraqis would throw themselves into Nasser’s arms completely as the Syrians did. One possible result would be a loose federal tie, perhaps on the model of the United Arab Republic [States] (UAR plus Yemen). Another distinct possibility is that nothing more than close cooperation and alignment of policy without any formal tie would ensue.

[Page 370]

The principal Western interest in Iraq (apart from denying the area to the USSR) is oil. Enhanced influence in Iraq would probably enable Nasser to obtain the diversion of some Iraqi oil revenue to development outside the country, but he would not be likely to press for measures which would result in cutting off the income from oil. Gaining a position of increased influence in Iraq, would, however, enhance Nasser’s prospects of squeezing development capital out of Kuwait and the Gulf shaikhdoms and would bring added pressure on Saudi Arabia. (The British are particularly worried by this danger, although there are those including some Britishers who maintain that only through the establishment of at least a loose UAR hegemony is there any hope of achieving a more rational use of oil revenues in the area.) Against this likelihood must be weighed the longer-range implications of the possibility of the achievement by political subversion of the long-cherished Soviet goal of domination of the Persian Gulf area if Communist influence in Iraq is not arrested.

The Outlook for and Probable Consequences of Cooperation with Nasser in Iraq

There has been mounting evidence that Nasser’s concern over the trend of events in Iraq is leading him to seek an understanding with us that would enable him to risk a confrontation with the Soviets in the issue of communism versus Arab nationalism. Nasser’s recent conversation with Assistant Secretary Rountree had all the earmarks of a scarcely-veiled invitation to collaborate on Iraq.3 He is currently purchasing PL 480 wheat from us and has just concluded a contract with Caltex for the supply of all of Egypt’s petroleum imports during the coming year. The UAR and pro-Nasser press have begun to write openly of the dangers of communism for the Arab world. There is clearly an awareness on Nasser’s part of a shift in Soviet policy toward the Near East—a decision to pursue Soviet ends through other means than working with Nasser. It is evident that the ground has been laid for exploration of the possibilities with Nasser if we wish to take that step.

In considering the feasibility and desirability of seeking an accommodation with Nasser on Iraq, we must not lose sight of the fact that there are a great many difficulties inherent in such a course—e.g., public attitudes in this country; reactions of allied and friendly governments; unresolved problems such as the Palestine issue, the future of Jordan and the role of Lebanon; US-UAR differences in Africa, etc. It is not possible either for us or for Nasser to tackle the whole range of problems at once in order to clear the way for an understanding on Iraq. Any accommodation regarding Iraq would, therefore, have to be in the nature of a [Page 371] limited experiment, the success or failure of which would probably have a profound effect upon the future course of our relations with Nasser and our relationship with the phenomenon known as Arab Nationalism.

Recommended Position

It is recommended that you take a position along the following lines at the NSC meeting of December 23:

The questions which have been put to the NSC are of extreme gravity and bear, of course, most directly upon the implementation of the new policy toward the area. We believe they should certainly be the key considerations in our continuing close observations of the Iraq situation and of actions which it may be possible for the United States to take.
We believe this is a period which requires a maximum degree of flexibility to explore the situation in Iraq with other interested parties, including the United Arab Republic. Nasser is undoubtedly worried about the situation, and while our general reservations concerning any direct relationship with him on such a problem remain, we believe we should, without making any commitments, explore his views and those of his immediate entourage on the Iraqi situation. In view of Nasser’s obvious concern over the domestic Communist activities in Iraq, we believe discussions of the matter with him to be thoroughly consistent with our objective of denying the area to Soviet domination. We would prefer to reserve for the present any recommendations on whether action by Nasser or in concert with him should be encouraged.
We hope to explore the Iraq situation on an urgent basis with the Secretary upon his return. We will also wish to keep in touch with the UK, with Hussein in Jordan, with the Turks and Iranians and the Saudi Arabs.
The impression of the Department is that the situation in Iraq at the moment is one of extreme delicacy in which the die has not been cast definitely in any single direction. At such a period, we believe the utmost of caution should be exercised in suggesting any moves by outside powers, by the West and the Western-oriented nations in the area as well as by the UAR.
We are keeping constantly under consideration such matters as our existing and future technical assistance to Iraq and Iraq’s likely future under the Baghdad Pact. For the present, we believe any abrupt change in our present direction would not be helpful to our position in Iraq.

  1. Source: Department of State, S/SNSC Files: Lot 63 D 351, NSC 5820 Memoranda. Top Secret. Drafted by Lakeland.
  2. See Document 155.
  3. Document 51.
  4. Telegram 1797 from Cairo, December 15, reported on Rountree’s and Nasser’s conversation on the night of December 14. For text, see vol. XIII, pp. 505509.